28 May 2004 Microsoft has prompted further confusion over its software bundling policy as it emerged that an end-to-end search tool will be released within a year through its MSN online portal.
Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates has described advanced search capabilities as the “Holy Grail” of Longhorn, Microsoft’s delayed next-generation operating system. But earlier this month, a senior Microsoft executive said that such end-to-end search functions would not be fully in place until 2009 — three years after Longhorn is due for release.
However, this week, Yusuf Mehdi, head of Microsoft’s MSN division, told analysts at a Goldman Sachs Internet conference in Las Vegas, Nevada that a new tool, MSN Search, would be available “well before Longhorn ships”, in the next twelve months.
MSN Search will do “everything across local PC search, e-mail search, Web search… [and] database search”, Mehdi said. “That will, as far as the consumer is concerned, be an end-to-end system for searching across any data type.”
The confusion would appear to stem from the variety of similar tools in development at Microsoft’s various research facilities.
Alongside MSN Search, Microsoft is also developing ‘Stuff I’ve Seen’, which searches everything from Word documents to cached web pages; Win FS, Longhorn’s search and storage platform; and Ask MSR, an ‘Ask Jeeves’-style tool which answers queries phrased as natural-language questions.
Analysts have interpreted the decision to pre-release the new technology as an indication of how seriously Microsoft is taking the threat from web search leader Google. It is particularly keen to diminish Google’s dominance of the search advertising market. Google’s “Puffin” project, currently in development, is a file and text search for desktop PCs, which incorporates its AdWords technology.
Microsoft’s bundling policy has been the focus of antitrust investigations in Europe and the US. Most recently, the European Commission fined the company $615 million and ordered it to stop bundling its Media Player software with Windows.